Reach For An App Instead Of Prozac? Gamification As Medication


A 2022 Forbes article listed some of the potential negative effects of video gaming: low self-esteem, depression, lack of motivation and anxiety. So I was surprised to discover that gaming can actually be used as a tool against such conditions.

Gamification as medication? Yes, indeed.

“Medical practitioners often use games to improve the mental health of people suffering from anxiety, depression, and trauma pain,” reports Allied Market Research, which sees healthcare gamification as a $9 billion global industry by 2031.

Arcade’s “digital therapeutic” space-themed mobile game, StarStarter Rx, uses a cognitive training technique called attention bias modification to reduce a person’s social anxiety symptoms. The company announced results of a pilot study showing reduction of symptoms like worry during social situations in more than 90% of participants aged 22-65, with an average decrease of 33%.



Termed a “digital health device” by the Food and Drug Administration, StarStarter Rx runs through an Android or iOS app. The game “uses facial archetypes and gamification to retrain emotional and attentional patterns that can drive persistent feelings of social anxiety, worry, and distress,” Nayan Ghosh, Arcade’s vice president and head of commercial strategy, tells Marketing Daily. “Though the gameplay experience is relatively simple, it applies a dynamically adaptive algorithm to enable a personalized training experience for each user that’s also fun to play.”

“SAD is the most prevalent of anxiety disorders, more than twice that of generalized anxiety disorder,” said Arcade founder and chief science officer Tracy Dennis-Tiwary PhD in a press release. The number of cases has been rising recently, she noted, “as many are now re-acclimating to social situations after the isolation of the pandemic.”

Under a COVID-era FDA waiver that enables the game to be offered temporarily without a prescription, StarStarter Rx will launch on a limited clinical basis in April via primary care, collaborative care, chronic care, and behavioral health providers.

Meanwhile, Arcade aims for Food and Drug Administration approval of the game as a prescription-only treatment by the fourth quarter.

The makers of Jigsawdio, an audio-visual jigsaw puzzle device for Alzheimer's and dementia patients, received a $500,000 Science and Technology Transfer grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to fund prototype development and a use study.

“Statistics show that there are not enough caregivers to offer the personal attention to keep members of these populations engaged,” so Jigsawdio uses personal images and audio specific to each individual “to engage with the meaningful aspects of their life," Jigsawdio founder and chief executive officer Amy Young said in a press release.

In prototypes expected to be completed by April and then tested for six weeks by Indiana University researchers, the videos and audios are uploaded by users -- via an already approved iPhone app -- to an SD card that’s then physically transferred to a frame containing 12, 24 or 36 acrylic pieces, six of which play recordings that narrate the image in that part of the puzzle.

The frame does contain bluetooth and WiFi for future iterations, and an Android app is expected in the fall, Young tells Pharma & Health Insider.

The marketing plan is under development, she says, with “nursing home administrators and activity directors as well as individual caregivers  as our target audience.”

Moving to a different population than dementia patients,  the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has released a mobile card game designed to spark conversations about mental health among young people.

NAMI’s “Say It Out Loud” is designed “to be played in-person in small and intimate settings to help build connections and trust between young adults,” Jennifer Rothman, NAMI’s director of youth and young adult Initiatives, tells Pharma & Health Insider.

While the game can also be played virtually, we tried it out in a way for which it’s not designed -- as one-person solitaire -- and was asked such initial questions as “What makes you cringe?” and “What’s the best advice you ever received?”

But we had to stop play when asked to “Give the person to the right of you a compliment.”

"Say It Out Loud" was developed with the help of NAMI Next Gen, the alliance’s 10-member young adult advisory group.

NAMI is spreading the word about the game by leveraging its 600+ local affiliates and 49 state organizations, using social media, and sharing it with its young adult networks, including NAMI On Campus leaders at colleges and universities across the country.

Rothman said that NAMI is now tracking engagement metrics including number of times the game is played and shared, as well as increased attention via social media posts.

A NAMI teen survey in August 2022 found that about two-thirds of them (65%) felt comfortable talking about their mental health with the people closest to them, while nearly half (46%) said they are comfortable talking to their friends about it.


Next story loading loading..